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Dublin Live
Gerard Couzens

'Key member' of Kinahan cartel arrested in Spain after being named by US authorities

Cops have dealt a fresh hammer blow to the Kinahan cartel as they swooped on one of its alleged key members in Spain yesterday.

Spanish police arrested Johnny Morrissey at his home on the Costa Del Sol, months after he was named as one of the key members of the gang – and was hit with a massive US sanctions rap. English-born Morrissey was one of seven men named as key members of the €1billion cartel and sanctioned by America in April – including Christy, Daniel and Christopher Kinahan.

Detectives from six different police forces, including the Garda, the Spanish Civil Guard and powerful US DEA law enforcement agency, took part in the operation to snare Morrissey on Monday. The bald-headed Greater Manchester-raised expat, identified earlier this year by US authorities as a Kinahan enforcer and money launderer, smiled initially after being surrounded by cops and cuffed.

Read more: Dublin gangland shooting survivor celebrates wedding with lavish bash in Spain

But his grin turned to a grimace as he was led away and tried to hide his face when he realised press photographers were about to get a snap of him in his eye-catching tropical shorts and T-shirt. And his wife Nicola, CEO of a Scotland-based vodka firm linked by police to organised crime, raised her middle finger as she was walked out by armed Spanish cops behind him.

The pair were appearing in court yesterday after spending two nights in police custody. Spanish police are yet to make any official comment on Monday’s arrests, and are not expected to do so until later today at the earliest.

But it can today be revealed former Rochdale doorman Morrissey, nicknamed Johnny Cash when he ran a restaurant in Cork in the 90s, was held on suspicion of crimes including money laundering following an operation led by Spanish police and co-ordinated across two continents. The detentions took place five months after the 62-year-old was identified as a key player in the Kinahan cartel and just over a week after it emerged gardai were analysing crucial information that could help prosecute members of the notorious criminal gang.

Yesterday’s court appearance in the holiday resort of Marbella, to determine whether the couple should be granted bail, was held behind closed doors as is normal in Spain where only trials take place in public. Morrissey, full name John Francis Morrissey, and his wife were expected to be remanded in custody pending an ongoing criminal probe although court officials could not be reached for comment yesterday to confirm what had been decided.

The Irish passport holder was one of seven people hit with sanctions in April and named by the US department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control. The US authorities said of Morrissey, so close to alleged cartel boss Daniel Kinahan he was invited to his wedding in Dubai in the summer of 2017: “John Morrissey has worked for the Kinahan Organised Crime Group for several years, including as an enforcer, and facilitates international drug shipments for the organisation from South America. John Morrissey is also involved in money laundering.”

He was included on the list alongside the likes of Daniel, described in the same statement as “playing an integral part in organising the supply of drugs in Ireland”, his dad Christopher and veteran Dublin-born criminal Bernard Clancy. The other people named as part of a $5million appeal for information were Christopher Kinahan Jnr, Daniel Kinahan’s “advisor and closest confidant” Sean McGovern and Ian Dixon who was arrested over the 2015 Costa del Sol murder of Gary Hutch but never charged.

Nero Drinks Company Ltd, the vodka firm based at an address in Glasgow which Nicola Morrissey runs with her husband, was one of three companies included in the list and banned from trading in the States. Johnny, who courted celebrities including models and reality TV stars as the ambassador of his wife’s drinks business, fled Ireland more than 20 years ago after reportedly being involved in a bid to harm a Criminal Assets Bureau officer in Ireland.

Former CAB officer Felix McKenna, who earlier this year linked Morrissey to the attempt to intimidate or even kill a prominent Bureau officer before he left Ireland having had more than €600,000 worth of cash and property seized, welcomed his inclusion in the US sanctions list in April. Speaking to an Irish Sunday newspaper he said: “It’s fantastic to see what happened last week in regards to the issuance of the notices by the US authorities. Hopefully, these men are all incarcerated in the forthcoming years and locked away for a long time.”

Spanish police and counterparts from other law enforcement agencies around Europe are believed to have searched several properties with a court warrant including Morrissey’s house near Marbella and business addresses as part of the operation which resulted in his arrest. It was led by the Civil Guard Unit’s elite Central Operative Unit, responsible for the investigation and prosecution of the most serious forms of crime.

Morrissey is the first of the men named and sanctioned by the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control to face arrest since the list of the KOGC’s seven “key players” was made public. One well-placed source said last night: “Although he’s the first we don’t expect him to be the last and are working on making sure others fall soon.” Garda Chief Commissioner Drew Harris revealed earlier this month police were making progress in their fight to smash the Kinahan cartel.

He said: “As I’ve said before, this is work that’s ongoing. We’re working together with our colleagues in particular with US federal law enforcement and those investigations carry on. We’re very much now in receipt of information our appeals for information have brought forward.” The Kinahan cartel gained notoriety around the world over a feud with the rival Hutch gang which has led to the deaths of at least 18 people in Ireland and Spain.

Fugitive boss Gerry “The Monk” Hutch was arrested in August last year near his bolthole in the Costa del Sol resort of Fuengirola and is due to be tried later this year for the February 2016 murder of David Byrne at the Regency Hotel in Dublin. BBC’s Panorama exposed Daniel Kinahan’s influence in boxing in a documentary last year which led to calls for tighter regulation of the sport.

World heavyweight champion Tyson Fury reportedly dropped the Irishman as his negotiator after his “instrumental” role in brokering a two-fight deal with rival Anthony Joshua was outlined. Fury had previously thanked Kinahan on Instagram. The 45-year-old Dubliner, now based in Dubai, insisted after the Panorama programme:” I am not part of a criminal gang or any conspiracy. I have no convictions. None.”

And well-placed sources confirmed Morrissey had been remanded in custody by a judge pending an ongoing probe but his wife had been released. It was not immediately clear if she had been bailed and would remain under investigation. Another suspect arrested in Spain as part of the police operation was also remanded in custody after appearing in court yesterday but no further details were released.

Another suspect was arrested in the Manchester area on Tuesday by the UK’s elite national Crime Agency. He was in custody last night, but has not been charged yet.

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